HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gathered about 100 top supporters and donors over the weekend at South Florida’s Hard Rock Hotel and Casino to say “thank you” — and to foreshadow what might be next.

DeSantis’ 2024 presidential aspirations quickly fell apart, but there is already a sense inside the network he built for his campaign that he is eyeing another run in 2028, when former President Donald Trump likely will not be running again.

Since returning to Tallahassee full-time, DeSantis has stayed in contact with his top political donors, maintained a focus on immigration beyond Florida (including sending more National Guardsmen to the southern border), pushed the idea of federal constitutional amendments creating congressional term limits, and vocally supported the type of culture-war proposals that first made him a national star among Republicans.

DeSantis supporters see those moves, along with the weekend event at the Hard Rock, as clear signs the Florida governor is once again eyeing a White House bid. He is facing term limits and can’t run again for governor. And DeSantis did note in a February thank-you call with supporters that he hadn’t “ruled anything out” in terms of a future run, though he noted then it’d be “presumptuous to say” at the current time.

“I think you can absolutely read between the lines,” said a DeSantis’ supporter who attended this weekend’s events. “He has done nothing to try and downplay the idea, nor should he. 

DeSantis did not directly discuss running for president again during the weekend’s events, according to three people who attended. But he told those gathered that he believed two closely watched Florida ballot measures — on placing abortion protections in state constitution and another on legalizing recreational marijuana — would fail this fall. He also talked about the conservative-fueled transformations and the state level since he took office, comparing them to what was happening at the federal level.

The main event Saturday evening featured DeSantis speaking with Reps. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who were among the few members of Congress who backed DeSantis’ presidential campaign. Both joined him on the road before he even announced his bid for president, at events where DeSantis outlined his “blueprint” for various policies he would later run on.

“Chip Roy really got into how f—– up the federal government is, and how it looks like the current speaker is going to be taken out,” said another attendee. “It was pretty much the DeSantis-Massey-Chip Roy show that they did throughout the campaign. Very familiar to when he was rolling out the blueprint stuff.”

The event was hosted by pro-DeSantis super PAC Fight Right, which emerged towards the end of his campaign for president. It was stocks with some of DeSantis’ closest allies and seen as the byproduct of continued tension with Never Back Down, which initially served as the main pro-DeSantis super PAC.

Despite being hosted by a super PAC, the event was not a fundraiser and money was not raised as part of the event. It was billed as a “thank you” to donors.

“No money was raised,” said another attendee. “This was just a move to kind of get everyone in the same room.”

It is the latest instance of attention to donor maintenance, an area that was once seen as a weakness of DeSantis’. Shortly after getting off the campaign trail, DeSantis also held a call with donors and supporters, including delegates who had pledged to support him at the Republican National Convention. 

On that call, DeSantis continued to be crucial of Trump, saying the former president was “looking more in identity politics,” comments that kept alive what had been an openly hostile relationship between the two men.

At the recent event at the Hard Rock, though, Trump did not come up, at times by design.

“He is now being respectful towards Trump. He’s not trying to steal his thunder right now,” said one attendee. “Some on the Trump side quietly say DeSantis is not doing enough, but Florida is a Republican state that Trump will win. What more can they want?”

The person said that there is likely not going to be a moment when DeSantis is any sort of surrogate or prominent voice helping Trump, but he will signal support when asked.

The main focus, the person suggested, should be on trying to repair any damage DeSantis did to his political brand with GOP voters during a brutal primary campaign.

“I think there is certainly a need for reformation. He needs to repair his image nationally,” said one of the attendees. “I don’t know anyone is going to be like sending him to Pennsylvania right now, and I don’t know that that would do any good.”

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